‘Tis the season when many folks are worried about gaining weight—so I’m taking the opportunity to tell you about one surprising—and greasy—food that actually can help you take off pounds and inches. This is the kind of claim I tend to be skeptical about, but when it comes to coconut oil, which is healthful for a host of other reasons as well, there’s solid research backing up the claim.

Several studies published in the International Journal of Obesity and Metabolic Disorders show that this really works. One study measured fat burning and calorie expenditure in obese men who ate coconut oil—not only were both accelerated, but the coconut oil also resulted in diminished fat storage. Another study evaluated women who followed a diet for 27 days in which 30% of their daily total calories came from medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs), the kind found in coconut oil—it was found to boost fat burning and calorie expenditure.

Why Is This Fat So Good?

These great results may seem counterintuitive, since we know that coconut oil is healthful for many reasons—heart disease, stroke, digestion—and weight loss. Coconut oil has MCTs, which are metabolized differently by the body than other saturated fats. According to Sally Fallon Morell, author of the book Nourishing Traditions and the president of The Weston A. Price Foundation, an organization that champions traditional full-fat, natural foods, the body uses MCTs quickly for energy rather than storing them as fat.

This weight-loss advantage makes sense given what scientists already knew about coconut oil and heart health in the real world: Natives of the Trobriand Islands in New Guinea, who consume about 80% of their daily calories from coconut and coconut oil, have virtually no ischemic heart disease or stroke. This population is also notable in its apparent lack of excess body fat.

Yet more benefits: Coconut oil also contains some other very healthy fatty acids, including lauric acid, which is known to be antimicrobial and protective against the bacterium H. Pylori. Coconut oil contains capric acid, too, which has strong anti-yeast properties. Like omega-3 oils, coconut oil reduces blood “stickiness”—a factor in heart disease. And the MCTs feed healthful bacteria in the large intestine and fight off harmful pathogens in the digestive tract.

What to Do?

More research is needed to learn how much coconut oil one might consume to promote weight loss, though Fallon Morell suggests that a tablespoon (you can cook with it, blend it in a smoothie, or use it on rice or pasta) with each meal would be a reasonable starting point.

Coconut oil is widely available, even in supermarkets. Don’t be put off by the fact that it is sold in solid form—the melting point is 76°F, so it literally melts in your mouth and stays liquid in your body. Avoid coconut oil that is labeled RBD (it stands for “refined, bleached, deodorized”), which means that it has been processed with chemicals. Choose instead products labeled “extra virgin coconut oil” or “organic coconut oil.” These versions are clean and, based on what all this research is showing us, might also help make you lean!